Restaurant review: Bodega, Elm Row, Edinburgh

Bodega, Elm Row, Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Bodega, Elm Row, Edinburgh. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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There’s nothing more boring than people telling you about what they ate on holiday. So I’ll keep this short.

How much?

Dinner for two, excluding drinks

£44.50

Food

7/10

Ambience

7/10

Total

14/20

Years ago, I stayed in San Francisco’s Mission district, which has a large Mexican community. In this area, the fast food joints offered the best burritos and tacos I’ve ever had. They weren’t laden with blobby cheese and mince, but tasted vital and fresh. In the early hours, post-disco diners would buy burritos swaddled in foil – as heavy, thanks to the bean and rice content, as a baby.

I still have cravings.

In recent years, a couple of sprightly Mexican take-away/sit-in places have sprung up – Los Cardos and Illegal Jack’s in Edinburgh, and Glasgow’s Pinto Mexican Kitchen. Now the capital has a brand new taqueria, Bodega, which describes itself as serving “Mexican street food via West Coast US food truck”.

Maybe it’s The One, I thought, as I booked a table, of which there are few. In fact, the premises are about the size of a hairdresser’s waiting room, with only around 15 seats. They’ve painted the tunnel-like space chalk white, with one wall that’s papered with a tromp l’oeil of ornate tiles, then layered with film posters and portraits of cheesecake bombshells in sombreros.

We sat in the window, like a pair of particularly elderly Dia de los Muertos figurines.

As we’d forgotten it’s BYOB, 
we sipped alcohol-free Jarritos (£2.50) in cola and guava varieties, both of which tasted like melted ice poles.

The best of our starters (we ordered all three options) was the cod ceviche (£4.50). Accompanied by corn chips, the fishy cubes were sprinkled with hoops of chilli and plastered with an intensely limey “citrus sour cream”. The latter ensured all traces of scurvy were quickly evacuated from our bodies.

We also had big love for the sopa de tortilla (a steal at £4) – a rich and stocky broth laden with shredded chicken, tiny tomato cubes, celery and onion, with a thatch of toasted tortilla matchsticks.

A body-temperature black bean dip (£3.50) was earthy, with more dusty tortilla chips on the side and thin shavings of manchego on top.

When it comes to mains, you’d better like tacos. These cost £6 for a pair and £11 for two pairs (they’re designed for sharing). We went for five varieties, that’s ten tacos in total (£28). They arrive as they’re ready.

Here’s our top five countdown, best first.

1 “Orange pop BBQ beef with jicama slaw, pico de gallo and sour cream”. Oooh, sticky. Finger lickin’ good. Nice contrast of dirty juicy meat to clean crunchy coleslaw. The flour tortilla wraps are corny sweet and as soft as an old lady’s cheek.

2 “Recado rojo pulled pork with charred pineapple salsa”. Pops of fruitiness with gently spiced pork.

3 “Grilled chicken mole taco”. Not sure where the billed lettuce and guacamole were, but the chicken, with its toasty deep red sauce, tasted fantastic.

4 “Tuna tacos”. Strips of rare tuna, with a sesame crust. A little bland – could’ve done with a bit more wasabi in the wishy-washy “wasabi avocado mayonnaise”.

5. “Avocado tempura taco”. Not sure if I can rave about battered avocado. Meh.

Despite the wonders of tacos 1, 2 and 3, we did get slightly tired of the ubiquitous jicama coleslaw and oniony pico de gallo (my breath should have been cordoned off with yellow tape) – a combination added to every option.

Our dinner was punctuated by another sunshine-y offering – a shared slice of crocodile pie (£4.50). Think puréed avocado blended with oodles of lime juice on a biscuit base. You couldn’t even taste the scales.

This place is certainly unique, and it’s already created a buzz – as evidenced by the amount of bearded and be-spectacled hipsters (already carrying pre-emptive beers) they were having to turn away.

I wouldn’t say that Bodega is going to satisfy my Proustian cravings, but perhaps only a proper holiday will do that. Well, any excuse.